The link between stress and back pain

Life is stressful at times. But this is OK. When life becomes constantly stressful there is a problem. Stress has numerous far-reaching effects on our body’s physiology. We are designed to deal with short term stressful situations, and we do it well. Our body jumps into action, we deal with the problem, and then the body relaxes again. This is the ‘flight or fight’ response that keeps us alive in survival situations.

However, surviving modern life isn’t quite the same – there are continual challenges, but we can’t simply run from them or fight them off. In the digital age the distinction between work time and rest time is blurred. Social media adds the pressure of comparing our own lives to the idealised version of the lives of our ‘friends’ like never before. Longer working hours, pay freezes, and look how bad the traffic has become. Being constantly primed to deal with stress means our body is continually pumping out cortisol – the ‘stress hormone’. Over time this hormone has a devastating effect on a whole host of body systems.

Cortisol, along with adrenaline, raises the heart rate, an obvious advantage for ‘flight or fight’, but a constantly raised heart rate increases blood pressure and raises the risk of heart attack and stroke. Try sleeping with a raised heart rate too. When stressed the body diverts blood and energy to the muscles, again to allow ‘fight or flight’. The stomach and digestive system are therefore deprived of input, food is absorbed less well and symptoms of IBS, reflux and tiredness can become apparent. Cortisol suppresses the release of insulin from the pancreas, ultimately leading to insulin-resistance in the cells of the body. Insulin is the hormone that would normally ‘lock away’ sugar for future use. The ‘free floating’ sugar in the blood causes the symptoms of diabetes and is associated with damage to arteries and nerves, ultimately resulting in kidney damage, blindness and vascular dementia. The one body system best able to deal with all of this damage is the immune system. Unfortunately stress and cortisol also suppress the immune system. These effects are just a small part of the pictures that results from chronic stress:


I’m often asked if stress causes back pain. The truth is that stress can be a major contributing factor with back, neck and shoulder pain. When we are stressed our posture deteriorates. Inflammation in the joints is allowed to go unchecked. Our brain chemistry and structure becomes physiologically less resistant to pain signals from the body. We don’t sleep well. We get tired. We tense up, we ache, we tense up further.

Dealing with chronic spinal pain can be part of the solution to feeling happier and healthier. This is where Chiropractic comes in. It then becomes easier to address the other aspects of stress management with:

  1. Exercise is the easiest and most appropriate way to deal with the effects of stress. ‘Fight or flight’ demands a physical response. Exercise is the body’s natural way to ‘use up’ cortisol and to deal with stress. Any exercise will do, but it must be enjoyable, physically demanding, and of course done regularly.
  2. Eating well. Stress can mean that food isn’t absorbed well and the immune system isn’t working as effectively. So to get the best out of your body give it premium fuel. High in nutrients and low in ‘pro-inflammatory chemicals’. Simply drop the processed food and grab the superfoods.
  3. Address the issues. This is of course the hardest bit. Simply talking to someone about the stresses at home or work can help. At Chiropractic UK Hinckley we can link up with professional counselling, NLP, and hypnotherapy services available at the Burbage House Health Clinic.